NYC man accused of using drone for cross-border drug scheme in Youngstown

YOUNGSTOWN, N.Y. (WIVB) — A New York City man has been accused of flying a drone back and forth into Canada in an effort to bring back drugs, according to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office.

The drone was allegedly being launched from a residence on Wolf Run Drive in Youngstown. It would travel from there across the Lower Niagara River and land in Niagara-on-the-Lake before returning, prosecutors said.

Early in the morning of September 21, 2022, officials said the drone flew over into Canada from Youngstown. Its launch was spotted by U.S. Border Patrol, officials said.

When members of law enforcement responded, they said it had finished its round-trip route and was hovering in the Youngstown backyard with a package hanging from it.

As it landed near one person, they said another person, later identified as 37-year-old Yong Chen, fled from authorities. A criminal complaint says the first person was detained after surrendering.

Chen was found shortly after this when a 911 call about someone having shortness of breath reached dispatchers, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.

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The package was seized and found to contain three bags of MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, authorities said. The criminal complaint said there was more than 6.5 pounds of it.

“Based on my training and experience, this amount of MDMA is consistent with that of a narcotics trafficker and not of a personal user,” a Homeland Security special agent said in his affidavit. “Those who acquire MDMA for personal use do not typically buy MDMA in the kilogram amount.”

Chen is not known to have any ties to the Buffalo or Youngstown areas. The residence he allegedly fled from was purchased by a business owned by his sister, according to the criminal complaint.

“Record checks show that the property was last sold on April 21, 2022, for $630,000, approximately one month before the first cross-border drone flight from the residence took place,” the criminal complaint read.

Inside the residence, prosecutors said it was barely furnished, with almost no furniture other than some mattresses on the floor. Because of this and other factors, investigators said it didn’t appear to have been used as a primary residence.

“During the search, investigators seized numerous commercial-grade drones, controllers, electronics, cell phones and a video hard drive containing the residence’s security camera footage, which showed Chen at the residence around the time the drone was spotted,” the U.S. Attorney’s office said.

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Prior to September 21, 2022, the seized drones had allegedly flown into Canada five times, starting and finishing at the Youngstown residence each time, according to prosecutors.

A special agent with Homeland Security believes the prior flights were conducted to test the drone’s abilities and troubleshoot any issues.

Chen was charged with possession with intent to distribute MDMA and importation of MDMA. If convicted, he could spend up to 20 years in prison and pay a $1 million fine.

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Evan Anstey is an Associated Press Award, JANY Award and Emmy-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.

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